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State health officials ‘cautiously optimistic’ on improving COVID-19 numbers

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MONTGOMERY — Alabama’s daily COVID 19 statistics continue to improve, with hospitalizations, deaths and new cases trending downward to look like they did at almost a year ago when the pandemic was first starting. That has state health officials cautiously optimistic, but still asking the public to remain vigilant against the virus.

State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris said on Monday that the state’s COVID-19 related hospitalizations and deaths are at some of the lowest points since the pandemic began.

“There’s a lot of things to be encouraged about, even though we still have some concerns about what the future might look like,” Harris told Alabama Daily News.

Some of those concerns, Harris said, are the increased spread of the various COVID-19 variants and the changes in people’s behavior that may increase viral spread.

“We just hope that people will remember, we’re still not out of this response and that we still are seeing hundreds of cases a day, even though we’re not seeing 1,000 cases a day,” Harris said.

Since the pandemic began, more than 514,000 Alabamians overall have tested positive for COVID-19. On Monday, just 193 new cases were reported with a 7-day average of 301, according to Bama Tracker. That includes at least one day of backlogged cases. The last time the state saw that few cases consistently reported was mid-April and early May of last year.

There are currently 350 confirmed hospitalizations for COVID-19 as of Monday, the least since mid-April of last year.

03/30 Bama Tracker New COVID-19 Cases and 7-Day Average

Bama Tracker New COVID-19 Cases and 7-Day Average

03/30 Bama Tracker Confirmed COVID-19 Hospitalizations and 7-Day average

Bama Tracker Confirmed COVID-19 Hospitalizations and 7-Day average

COVID-19 related deaths have also continued to drop in recent weeks with a seven-day average of 12.86 deaths.

The only COVID-19 variant detected so far in Alabama is the B.1.1.7 from the United Kingdom, which is able to spread more easily and quickly than other variants. As of March 26, 103 cases of that variant have been detected in Alabama.

Dr. Don Williamson, president of the Alabama Hospital Association, says the decrease in deaths is due to the number of people who have already had the virus and the fact that the most at-risk populations for serious illness have been vaccinated.

“It’s not herd immunity, but it’s not zero, and as a result I think that lowers the ability of the virus to spread,” Williamson told ADN.

Alabama has had two main case surges during the pandemic, one last summer and another around the beginning of 2021. Williamson and Harris both said it’s hard to know if Alabama is headed for another surge, but could see an increase in positive cases but not an increase in hospitalizations or deaths.

“An increase in cases, which may happen because of the variant, is probably not going to be translated as directly to increase hospitalizations as it would have been before the vaccine,” Williamson said.

Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Rochelle Walensky, said on Monday during a White House health briefing that she had a feeling of “impending doom” as more states eased off of COVID-19 restrictions.

President Joe Biden also made a plea for states to reinstate mask orders and other restrictions as a way to stave off a “fourth surge,” the Associated Press reported.

Alabama’s current mask order will stay into effect until April 9. Gov. Kay Ivey has said she will not extend it.

“We have made progress, and we are moving toward personal responsibility and common sense, not endless government mandates,” Ivey’s press secretary Gina Maiola told reporters on Monday.

Williamson said it’s still important to wear a mask even after being partially or fully vaccinated because there is still not enough information to know if a vaccinated person can spread the virus.

“Until we can reach herd immunity and get people vaccinated, our most effective way to prevent transmission in the unvaccinated population is wearing masks,” Williamson said.

The CDC still recommends that people wear a mask when going out in public or crowded places where six-feet of separation is not possible and to continue to avoid crowds. People who have been fully vaccinated can gather with other fully vaccinated people in enclosed spaces without a mask as long as no one is exhibiting symptoms.

So far 610,351 people have completed their vaccine series in Alabama, according to Alabama Department of Public Health’s vaccine dashboard.

Harris said he was happy with the vaccine rollout effort so far and said by the end of this week, every approved vaccine provider in the state will have received doses.

“Our plan all along has been to push that out to Alabama’s provider network so that people can obtain vaccine from the same place they get their regular health care, it doesn’t have to be a special trip or they don’t have to negotiate a new computer system or drive to another location if possible,” Harris said.

To check vaccine eligibility, go to ADPH’s vaccine portal.